Jules’s selection of Bi, Butch, and Bark Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality was a really interesting read. I’m excited to bring a discussion of gender and sexuality into our talks about teaching and pedagogy, and Michelle Gibson, Martha Marinara, and Deborah Meem do an excellent job of talking about the intersection between their identities and their careers as academics.
I really enjoyed Marinara’s piece and her discussion of shifting identity. She brings this thought to the forefront of the classroom, where she feels that the uncertain spaces found in the writing classroom between the “real me” voice and the “emerging public voice” shouldn’t be resolved by placing students into identity label boxes, but rather this tension should become a space to work from and with. Identity, Marinara says, “includes the writer’s shifting relationships with the peculiarities of our culture,” and therefore is not static. She believes that the space created by opening up identity, rather than making it essentialist and fixed, allows for a model of collective identity and helps to reveal how every single one of us is both enlarged and oppressed by constantly shifting social norms and cultural ideas.
(As a side note, I was floored when I read the passage about a student who stated they “didn’t believe in lesbians” or, even worse, that an entire classroom of female students couldn’t/wouldn’t work with the writing of a lesbian essayist. I know this article is older, but it’s only from 2000 and the class mentioned above was stated as being taught “last quarter”, placing it in, most likely, 1999 or so. That’s not that long ago, but this really shows how far we’ve come in twenty-odd years regarding LGBTQ+ rights. Of course, we’re far from finished, but wow!)
Deborah Meem’s piece was eye-opening, in that it made me think about things in a way I’d never thought about before. Meem states that “as a butch woman, however, I had a certain power over him; he clearly perceived me as being immune to male feather-ruffling and intimidation,” in regards to an interaction where a male colleague where her butchness helped her. Furthermore, in an identity/privilege chart, Meem puts butch as privileged, femme as oppressed. I think society usually views butches as oppressed, because of their very visible lesbian identity (which can make them targets for hate), while viewing femmes as privileged because of their ability to be “invisible” in regard to their sexuality. Meem sees it otherwise, though: “today, however, butch visibility in the academy can provide access to a certain kind of power; the relative invisibility of femmes makes it difficult for them to connect with sources of lesbian community…” Meem feels that, while butch was an oppressed identity in the 1950s because the butch identity was a target for harassment, discrimination, and violence, today that axis is shifting and it may be that butch lesbians are able to use their identity “as a commodity” (mentioning work by Diana Fuss in which identities, in academia, are commodities) and that experiences of privilege vs. oppression do not remain consistent over time. Echoing Marinara, Meem states that identities, and the experience of privilege/oppression that goes along with them, are not fixed, and that complicating one’s own identities is a revolutionary act. I’d never really considered this concept of identity used as commodity/for power (which I don’t believe Meem posits as a bad thing, nor do I!) nor the idea that the experience of privilege/oppression attached to identity could change so much over time or from one situation to another.
Gibson’s piece talks about identity, political resistance, and diversity in academia. I think her piece was particularly telling about the state of the academy, at least in the 2000s, though I’m sure her statement still echoes today: “though many academics talk about diversity, the academy itself persists in seeing the university as tweed: white, middle class, and heterosexual.” Gibson tries to subvert this view by talking about her own memories and performing her identity actively in her academic career. She talks about how, in a dossier of her work that she was required to submit at her university (as a professor), she used her life experiences and identity as “currency” (following in line with the idea of identity as a commodity) to try to bring some understanding of her students’ circumstances to the administrators she knew would be reading her dossier. She was being sure to actively blur the line between a person that the administrators would see as “not college material” and a person who was a successful professional, by using herself and her life experiences as an example of these things. At the end of her piece, however, Gibson warns that over time, acts intended to work as political resistance can become so familiar and institutionalized they can lose their power, so these acts should not continue to be used thoughtlessly/without constant interrogation to see if they are still functioning as the user intends.
The overall piece ends with the conclusion that teachers committed to creating classrooms that critique traditional power structures must commit to interrogating their own identities and positions in the classroom. They must be aware of and responsive to the interplay of identities of their own and their students; it is not enough to simply assign readings about race, class, gender, sexuality, and so forth.
And now, an update on my final project. I’m doing a remix of Rapunzel (my favorite Disney princess!) and for a bit I actually really struggled, unsure of what direction I wanted to take this in. However, after a brainstorming session with my girlfriend, I know what I’m doing:
My remix is going to be set in the modern world. Mother Gothel is not evil, but rather an overly-anxious mother who went through a tough past and has some agoraphobia because of it. Her daughter, Rapunzel, is the light of her life and she wants nothing more than to protect her from the world. Rapunzel is homeschooled and learned a lot of her mother’s fears; she doesn’t go out much and doesn’t have any friends besides her pet iguana. People, and the outside world, make her nervous. However, despite this, Rapunzel is determined to go to college in person next year. After an encounter with her neighbor, Flynn, she builds the courage to try new things and experience the world around her.
I’m really excited to keep working on this story! Above is a mood board image that I think fits some of the vibes and ideas I have in my mind. Can’t wait to share more